Big Family Dinners

For many years my parents held weekly family dinners at their house. Initially our family of six had plenty of elbow room around a large oval table. Over the years the family has grown to twenty-one squashed around two round tables and no elbows to be seen!

Mum and Dad toiled in their kitchen putting on sumptuous Chinese banquets. In later years we children would contribute a dish or two each. We don’t hold the dinners anymore — catering became too difficult, especially if one or two siblings were absent.

Apart from the stress of cooking, I miss those times and look back on them with fondness. The Big Family dinners provided a chance for siblings to stay in touch, to get to know their siblings’ partners and look on them like their own siblings. It provided an opportunity for young cousins to play together and become close – the large rumpus room downstairs was a perfect setting for this, where many a table tennis tournament, piano duet, tricycle race and paper plane contest took place.

We’d begin the dinner by drinking to anyone who had any achievements during the week. Sometimes the number of people who had announcements was so long, the food was in danger of getting cold, as we each clinked glasses with the happy person!

My second sister started a “Cheers Book” where we recorded the announcements. They could be as important as ‘We’re having a baby!’, or as simple as ‘Jonny did his first wee wee in the potty!’. The book charts the journey of our family over the years – a speaking part in a school play, engagements, Good Sportsmanship Award at soccer yesterday, new job, leaving old job, participation in art shows, going on holidays, getting through a difficult week, good assignment results, degrees, anniversaries of Dad’s quitting of smoking. I once received an award for volunteering as a reading tutor at my children’s school for 5 years. And I was proud that my achievement was documented in the family book.

Conversation-wise, my family has a taste for the ridiculous. One of my sisters would start by recounting something funny that happened to her that week. The rest of us would add comments here and there escalating the story to high comedy and while we’d almost choke with laughter, Mum, who is hard of hearing, would catch one word of the conversation and start talking about something else completely.

If there was a new baby present, grandmother and aunties would quietly race each other to finish their meal so they could be the one to relieve the tired parent of his/her load and run away to coo over it.

Birthday dinners came with singing and cake, the inevitable embarrassing ‘blowing the candles’ photo, and gifts.

Dinner on Election Night has always been a tightrope. The TV is left on through the night while someone looks around the corner of the dining room at it to report the latest. Some members of our family like to clearly show their political colours and of these, some (my eldest sister) try their hardest in the weeks leading up to the election, to influence those who like to keep their voting preferences to themselves (me). This could be very irritating for both parties involved, but one must suffer for one’s right to privacy!

Politically, Mum is the most vocal of us all and we all know that if you provoke her too much, the conversation at dinner can quickly turn sour. So most of us hold our tongues and wait until we clean up after the main meal, congregating in the kitchen to whisper our thoughts.

One of my sisters has correctly predicted winners of elections for as long as we can remember. She is like our very own Eden-Monaro (a swinging seat which almost always swings to the next government) and at dinners leading up to elections we always ask her opinion. She is like a sage.

Talk of politics at family dinners is not restricted to Election Night. It continues right through to the next election, especially when the government of the day has made a blunder, with the supporters of the last losing team saying to the supporters of the government, hey, how do you think the government you voted in, is going? Except for Mum, this is all taken in good humour.

Those were good times. Thanks Mum and Dad for all the effort you made to put on these dinners. They shaped our family and made us close.


A Stranger in the Modern World

I was born long before the digital age, … well long enough to have used a typewriter for my school essays, and annoyed my parents by staying on the family phone too long. I have yet to fully appreciate or understand the way people communicate and record information in this modern world. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a foreign land.

I was in town walking down busy Pitt St one day when a young man in a suit ran up, and fell into step with me.

Hi, he said.

Hi, I replied (I’m a very polite person ).

I’m not disturbing you, am I?

No, no (I kept walking).

So how are you?

I’m well, thank you.

When did you get into town?

Oh, about half an hour ago, got off the bus at Circular Quay and thought I’d walk down …..

How about the other night! You were pretty out of it!


What? You still in bed? You lazy bastard!

I stopped as the man kept walking – he was talking on a bluetooth in his other ear! I just had a conversation with myself!

Once I stood outside a coffee shop and noticed a couple sitting by the window, facing each other with their heads bowed. The table was small and the tops of their heads almost touched. I thought, what a tender moment! They were actually both using their mobile phones under the table!

Another time I saw a man in the distance holding onto the pole of a parking sign, talking to it. He walked around the pole slowly and every now and then he’d look up at the sign and laugh. I thought oh, poor man! When I got closer I saw that he was talking on the phone using his hands-free kit.

Is it just me or does all this seem weird to you? I saw the above about a year ago and I must admit, events like these faze me less now. Same with seeing a group of girls all dressed up and out to dinner, spending the night taking group selfies and pictures of the food and drinks in front of them, and talking to people on their phones but rarely to each other. I’m getting used to it, but I still don’t understand it. Does it have something to do with social media? Is there pressure to show proof of the things that you do so that people know that you do things? And were you mentally present when doing the thing? Did you actually have fun while looking like you were having fun?

You’re probably thinking, you should talk, you’re writing a blog! You’re documenting the things that you do online. And you’d be right. I’m slowly getting sucked down the cyber-world spiral too. I don’t think this is as far as I go either, as I feel a few photos coming on in the future! Help! Grab my hand!

But really, I don’t think cyberspace is all bad. I spent a lot of time in my youth wondering about things and having no way of getting immediate answers to them like, I wonder what time it is in New York right now, or I wonder who is the head of Vanuatu? (?) And I’d just put up with the fact that I’d never know unless it was important enough for me to do some serious research later on.

Young people out there, the following is a conversation two people could have had before internet and mobile phones came onto the scene.

Say, when I went to Melbourne last year I had lunch at a little shop, I can’t remember its name, but they had steamed Chinese bread, you know the bread that they use for making steamed pork buns, and they used it to make tiny fresh warm sandwiches. The fillings were like pork belly, coriander and a lovely sauce, or tofu and chives, and that sauce! ….. Mmmmm! I still think about that lunch!

Yum! I’m going to Melbourne to visit my brother soon. Where did you say the place was? And what was the name?

It was somewhere in the CBD, it had a name ending in BAO, I know that much, something like Super Bao, or Mighty Bao. It was in a little laneway with graffiti on it, near a university or something. The laneway had an unusual name, something fitting in with the university setting, something to do with books I think. Oh I wish I’d kept the CBD map that the hotel gave me when I was there. If I had it, I could show you.

Where to find a map of Melbourne’s CBD in Sydney? Hmmm. We could go to the Victorian Tourist Bureau, in the city tomorrow, but it will be a bit of an effort to go all that way….. I know, I’ll ring my brother!

(beep beep beep beep) HELLO! WHAT’S WRONG!

Oh hi, It’s just me, nothing’s wrong, I was just talking to my friend here and she recommended a bao place that I should go to when I’m down there. I just wanted to ask you if you know where it is?


Oh dear! Your description of the food really has me intrigued! Perhaps we could find a recipe to recreate it.

(1/2 hour later) I couldn’t find anything remotely like it in any of my recipe books! Perhaps we could go tomorrow to the library to see if we can find it in their recipe books.

No, I’ve tried that already, this is something very new, it’s steamed bread. The only thing I found remotely like it  there was a recipe for pigs-in-blankets.

What’s that?

Don’t quite remember but it was something wrapped in something, but it wasn’t steamed bread!

That’s it! Tomorrow we’ll go to the post office, find a Melbourne phonebook, the Yellow Pages and look up Chinese Restaurant!

It sounds rather tedious.

But what else are we going to do?